While you may not remember this early 1960s concept personally, perhaps you’ve heard about it from a parent: it was an added feature to movie theaters that piped smells from small tubes in the moviegoer’s chair during critical scenes.
Imagine watching characters strolling in a garden and actually smelling flowers. Or a scene in a steak restaurant accompanied by the smell of steak and baked potatoes.
It didn’t work out very well, and it became another brief fad that fell onto the heap with pet rocks or car dashboard compasses. But as entertainment companies seek to immerse us in ever more realistic experiences, smell-o-vision may be about to make a comeback, along with several other sensory boosters.
South Korea’s CJ Group is currently in the process of introducing new "4-D" theaters that feature chairs with “ticklers,” fog machines, and about 1,000 scents that correspond to the action on the screen – such as the odor of burning rubber for car-chase scenes, according to a recent TIME magazine article.
The company expects to have four U.S. theaters up and running by the end of 2013.
But what about the home market? Imagine not only seeing a perfume commercial, but smelling it. New air freshener? Latest fast-food burger? All in the comfort of your living room: your very, very smelly living room.
At the University of California San Diego, engineering professor, Sungho Jin, is reportedly building a prototype set-top box that will allow for scented viewing experiences at home. The box would come with scent cartridges that would need to be periodically replaced.
Japanese company ChatPerf is building a smartphone accessory with a scent cartridge that would allow users to send one another scents through text messaging. San Francisco’s Adamant Technologies is working on a smartphone app that can detect scents (rather than distribute them).
It’ll be able to check for bad breath and even sniff for blood alcohol levels, according to its makers.
But the question remains: Viewers in the 60s ultimately decided they didn’t want to smell movies, so will viewers and smartphone owners in 2013 want to smell movies and – an even more farfetched notion – advertising? While the concept of a smelly movie may be fun once or twice as a novelty, aren’t ads already intrusive enough, being rather too long and rather too loud? Do you really want a blast of Chanel perfume in your living room just as you’re opening the pizza box?
While you would certainly be able to turn off these technologies, how many people will choose to buy another scent cartridge after the 15 minutes of novelty have worn off?
In the meantime, those of us who are dubious about the technology can look forward to a day when a philandering spouse is caught because of a gardenia-scented text message he or she received at the breakfast table.